EditorsNote: update 2: adds new fourth and last grafs with Baker and Cash quotes
Framber Valdez delivered his second quality start of the American League Championship Series and the Houston Astros parlayed a four-run fifth inning into a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Petco Park to force a seventh and deciding game for a World Series berth.
The Astros became just the second team in postseason history to force a Game 7 after dropping the initial three games of a best-of-seven series. Houston joins the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who completed the comeback by beating the New York Yankees in the ALCS en route to a World Series title.
Game 7 will be played Saturday night.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said, "This team's battled back big-time. You've got to love this team, or some people hate this team, but I mean, you've at least got to respect this team, I think, the way that they've worked. I know people have given me a lot of credit, but I don't deserve any of it. They deserve it by their hard work and their perseverance."
Valdez (1-1), the losing pitcher in Game 1 despite allowing just two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts over six innings, was even better the second time around against the Rays. He worked six innings, surrendering one run on three hits and three walks with nine strikeouts.
Valdez tossed 101 pitches, including 52 curveballs, and generated a season-high 15 swings and misses on his stellar breaking ball.
Trailing 1-0 entering the fifth, the Astros suddenly seized control against Blake Snell (1-1). The Rays left-hander had appeared to steady himself in the third and fourth innings after needing 41 pitches and two double plays to hold the Astros scoreless over the first two innings.
Snell issued a leadoff walk to Yuli Gurriel before Aledmys Diaz singled to left field, prompting a pitching change. Rays manager Kevin Cash turned to right-hander Diego Castillo, 1-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in six postseason appearances. The Astros kept rolling.
After Martin Maldonado's sacrifice bunt, George Springer produced a two-run single before Jose Altuve added an RBI double that pushed the Astros to a 3-1 lead. Two batters later, Carlos Correa plated Altuve with an RBI single. The Astros sent eight batters to the plate in the decisive inning.
"One, that's a huge bunt," Springer said. "That's not an easy guy to swing at let alone try to bunt it. Obviously, there's a guy on third base (when I got up), and I've got to do everything I can to get him in. Almost just go straight into complete battle mode to hope I can score the guy from third."
Manuel Margot slugged a pair of home runs for the Rays: a leadoff shot in the seventh and a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Brandon Lowe, who scored on Willy Adames' RBI double in the second inning, scored on the second Margot homer.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly, pitching a third consecutive day for the first time this season, induced a game-ending double play from Mike Brosseau on his ninth pitch of the ninth inning. Pressly earned his second save in the series and his fourth in the 2020 postseason.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino said of his team trying to bounce back, "A fair share of guys in that locker room have had their backs against the wall at some point and would be fighting for this opportunity. We have it. It's right there."
Cash added, "We've gotta bounce back. This isn't the scenario we wanted (after we were) up 3-0. This is a resilient group. ... Encouraged that the offense kinda got going there. Look for some carryover. We're gonna show up tomorrow and do everything we can, like we always do, to find a way to win and pick each other up."
--Field Level Media